Pushing A Bright Idea!

light bulb savings

Happy new years to ya’ll! If you’re jotting down a resolution list, I’d highly recommend going out and buying compact fluorescent bulbs for your house. My housemates and I did it last year, and our bills have gone down dramatically. The new bulbs use %75 less energy, are more environmentally friendly, last 10 times longer, and don’t cost that much more. I know the chart above says they cost 2-4 bucks, but my roommate bought a handful of them for a buck each. The great news is that Wal-Mart is pushing to get these bulbs into over 100 million households which should help drive the cost down. Go buy the bulbs, get your friends to buy them, save money, and be feel great doing good for your environment. Full story via nytimes.

or Full story after the jump.
nytimes video report

walmart bulbs.nytimes article

Wal-Mart Puts Some Muscle Behind Power-Sipping Bulbs

While it sounds like a promising idea, it turns out that the long-lasting, swirl-shaped light bulbs known as compact fluorescent lamps are to the nation’s energy problem what vegetables are to its obesity epidemic: a near perfect answer, if only Americans could be persuaded to swallow them.

But now Wal-Mart Stores, the giant discount retailer, is determined to push them into at least 100 million homes. And its ambitions extend even further, spurred by a sweeping commitment from its chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., to reduce energy use across the country, a move that could also improve Wal-Mart’s appeal to the more affluent consumers the chain must win over to keep growing in the United States.

“The environment,” Mr. Scott said, “is begging for the Wal-Mart business model.”

It is the environmental movement’s dream: America’s biggest company, legendary for its salesmanship and influence with suppliers, encouraging 200 million shoppers to save energy.

For all its power in retailing, though, Wal-Mart is meeting plenty of resistance — from light-bulb makers, competitors and consumers. To help turn the tide, it is even reaching out to unlikely partners like Google, Home Depot and Hollywood.

A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb. But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.

As a result, the bulbs have languished on store shelves for a quarter century; only 6 percent of households use the bulbs today.

Which is what makes Wal-Mart’s goal so wildly ambitious. If it succeeds in selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs a year by 2008, total sales of the bulbs in the United States would increase by 50 percent, saving Americans $3 billion in electricity costs and avoiding the need to build additional power plants for the equivalent of 450,000 new homes.

That would send shockwaves — some intended, others not — across the lighting industry. Because compact fluorescent bulbs last up to eight years, giant manufacturers, like General Electric and Osram Sylvania, would sell far fewer lights. Because the bulbs are made in Asia, some American manufacturing jobs could be lost. And because the bulbs contain mercury, there is a risk of pollution when millions of consumers throw them away.

Michael B. Petras, vice president of lighting at G.E., concedes that “the economics are better with incandescent bulbs.”

All that has only spurred Wal-Mart to redouble its efforts — and, in typical fashion, it is asking those who may be hurt by the change to help achieve it.

During an extraordinary meeting in Las Vegas in early October, competing bulb makers, academics, environmentalists and government officials met to ponder, at times uncomfortably, how Wal-Mart could sell more of the fluorescent lights.

The proposals discussed at what Wal-Mart dubbed the “light bulb summit” ranged from the practical (advertise the bulbs on the back of a Coke 12-pack) to the quixotic (create a tax on incandescent bulbs to make them more expensive).

Selling 100 million bulbs “is not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination,” Stephen Goldmacher, an executive at Royal Philips, the Dutch company that is one of the world’s largest light-bulb makers, told the group. “If this were easy, it would have happened already.”

The attendees did not need to look far for evidence. Wal-Mart had asked the owners of the Mirage Hotel and Casino, where the conference was held, to commit to using the energy saving bulbs in its guest rooms in time for the meeting. The hotel politely declined.

It is not alone. Compact fluorescent bulbs, introduced in the United States with much fanfare in 1979 by Philips just as the nation’s second energy crisis of the decade was getting under way, have never captured the public imagination.

The new bulbs — lighted by sparking an efficient chemical reaction, rather than heating a metal filament — were ungainly, took several seconds to light up and often did not fit into traditional light fixtures.

Since then, refinements have made them far more convenient to use, reducing their size and price as well. But Wal-Mart sold only 40 million in 2005, compared with about 350 million incandescent bulbs, according to people briefed on the figures.

And it would have stayed that way unless Wal-Mart decided to go green. More than a year ago, Mr. Scott, the company’s chief executive, began reaching out to some of environmental groups, telling them that Wal-Mart, long regarded as an environmental offender, wanted to become a leader on issues like fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Scott viewed such a move as a way to use Wal-Mart’s influence to improve the environment, cut costs and, of course, burnish the company’s bruised image. In September 2005, Mr. Scott and Andy Ruben, Wal-Mart’s vice president for strategy and sustainability, drove 6,000 feet to the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire with Steve Hamburg, an environmental studies professor at Brown University, and Fred Krupp, the president of the advocacy group Environmental Defense.

At the summit, where scientists measure climate change 24 hours a day, the men discussed global warming, acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer and what Wal-Mart could do about them.

“You need to look at what is being sold on the shelf,” Mr. Hamburg recalled telling Mr. Scott over a dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes. He began talking excitedly about compact fluorescent bulbs. “Very few products,” he said, “are such a clear winner” for consumers and the environment.

Soon after returning from the trip, Wal-Mart publicly embraced the bulbs with the zealotry of a convert. In meetings with suppliers, buyers for the chain laid out their plans: lower prices, expanding the shelf space dedicated to them and heavily promoting the technology.

Light-bulb manufacturers, who sell millions of incandescent lights at Wal-Mart, immediately expressed reservations. In a December 2005 meeting with executives from General Electric, Wal-Mart’s largest bulb supplier, “the message from G.E. was, ‘Don’t go too fast. We have all these plants that produce traditional bulbs,’ ” said one person involved with the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of an agreement not to speak publicly about the negotiations.

The response from the Wal-Mart buyer was blunt, this person said. “We are going there,” the buyer said. “You decide if you are coming with us.”

In the end, as Wal-Mart suppliers generally do, the bulb makers decided to come with the company.

Philips, despite protests from packaging designers, agreed to change the name of its compact fluorescent bulbs from “Marathon” to “energy saver.” To keep up with swelling orders from the chain, Osram Sylvania took to flying entire planeloads of compact fluorescent bulbs from Asia to the United States.

“When Wal-Mart sets its mind to something with a narrow objective like that, they are going to make it happen,” said Jim Jubb, vice president for consumer product sales at Sylvania.

At the same time that it pressured suppliers, Wal-Mart began testing ways to better market the bulbs. In the past, Wal-Mart had sold them on the bottom shelf of the lighting aisle, so that shoppers had to bend down. In tests that started in February, it gave the lights prime real estate at eye level. Sales soared.

To show customers how versatile the bulbs could be, Wal-Mart began displaying them inside the lamps and hanging fans for sale in its stores. Sales nudged up further.

To explain the benefits of the energy-efficient bulbs, the retailer placed an education display case at the end of the aisle, where it occupied four feet of valuable selling space — an extravagance at Wal-Mart. Sales climbed even higher.

In August 2006, the chain sold 3.94 million, nearly twice the 1.65 million it sold in August 2005, according to a person briefed on the numbers.

But to reach 100 million, Wal-Mart has to do much more — and that, executives concede, is where the biggest challenges rest. In the fall, the company began reaching out to competing retailers, Internet companies and even filmmakers.

The goal was to turn its sales campaign into a broader cultural movement.

One proposal, headed by Lawrence Bender, who produced Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” is to create a Web site that would track sales of compact fluorescent bulbs at major retailers like Walgreen’s and Target. The result would be a real-time map, with data collected by a third party, showing how much Americans have saved by using the energy-efficient bulbs.

Mr. Ruben said such a map “helps consumers see this as something bigger than buying a bulb.”

At the same time, Google and Yahoo are in talks with Wal-Mart about how to use their search engines to promote the bulbs.

But Home Depot and Lowe’s balked at the idea of cooperating with their larger rival. “We don’t think we need an organization like that to sell more CFLs,” said Ron Jarvis, the vice president of environmental innovation at Home Depot, using the bulb’s industry nickname.

Then there is the mercury inside the bulbs, a problem Wal-Mart is working with the federal government and environmental groups to resolve, possibly by collecting the bulbs at its stores or off-site locations for recycling.

In the end, though, the biggest obstacle to overcome is America’s love affair with cheap, familiar-looking incandescent bulbs — a habit 130 years in the making.

For that to turn around, Wal-Mart will have to persuade its traditional consumers that it is worth paying a bit more at the checkout counter to save a significant amount money down the line, a seemingly simple task that few companies ever accomplish. It is particularly difficult at a retailer that has long emphasized “always low prices.”

“It has taken the American public forever to grasp this,” said Charlie Jerabek, the chief executive of Sylvania.

Helen Capone encapsulates the challenge. Ms. Capone, 68, said she “curses the energy company every month” because of her electricity bill and loves the five-year-old, trouble-free compact fluorescent bulb in her attic. But she won’t switch to the energy-saving bulbs in the rest of her house in Secaucus, N.J. “They are not the prettiest things in the world,” she said, surveying the bulbs at a Wal-Mart.

That has put Wal-Mart in the strange position of racing ahead of its customers and coaxing them, bulb by bulb, toward energy conservation.

“We start with the premise,” Mr. Ruben, “that customers make good choices.”

12 Responses to “Pushing A Bright Idea!”

  1. TOMAS Says:

    I bought a butt load of these from Costco and have been phasing out my regular bulbs as they burn out (which is happening at a faster rate than I thought). The only thing that took some getting used to was that the bulbs (like other fluorescent lights) take a few seconds before they hit their peak luminance when initially turned on – it’s a minor thing that doesn’t take away from their benefits.

  2. tango! Says:

    for sure…they do take that inital ignition, but when your saving $$$ you smile…I still use 1 regular bulb for my drafting desk lamp which combines the two colors(blue, orange) to give off a natural sun color…reminds me…did you know cake designers or creators tinti weddings cakes based on the location of your cake? If its suppose to be outside, they tint the white slightly orange to compensate for the blue sky…if in doors, they tint it blue to compensate for the orange warm lights…..in all, makes them look white…

  3. TOMAS Says:

    I was not aware of the techniques that cake designers utilize to make a cake look white depending on the environment, that’s interesting! I wonder if this is something they figured out on their own, or through the photography industry which always has to compensate for the difficulty in taking pictures of food?

  4. tango! Says:

    yeah, the mysteries of color which is a whole new topic…i use to study color theory way back when…very interesting…much like the mcdonalds yellow, which draws your attention to them, but makes you uncomfy fast, hence making more space for new customers to sit down….there’s a reason their seats were never too comfy.

  5. designverb Says:

    […] Anyhow, back to the picture above. This is what I saw while walking back to my seat; a sea of monitors glimmering pool-like reflections onto the walls. These screens really light up the place!!! Besides the light, these screens sure do create some heat. One thing that bothered me was that every single screen was “ON”, blasting images, light, and heat everywhere. Now I usually don’t make a gripe about this, but ever since I got into “save energy mode” I’ve realized how money and energy can be saved through simple things such as a light. I asked myself, why can’t JetBlue turn off the screens that are not being used? I know users can turn off their screens, but it’s not easy to.(I’ve had to show so many people how to turn them off) This flight was half empty, hence, half the screens were “ON” for no reason. Why can’t the default be “OFF” while the action to turn on the screens be up to the users (If I recall right, this is how it works on some international airlines). Would this actually save them a few dollars of energy a flight, hundreds a day, and perhaps thousands a week? […]

  6. travelina Says:

    When I read this Wired article a few months ago and started talking to people who used these bulbs who said the quality of light was just as good as incandescents, I suggested that my company switch to compact fluorescents, because I figured if people used them at work they’d see how good they are. My company did the math and decided they’d save money and agreed to switch out all the incandescent bulbs in all the desk lamps. The funny thing is, nobody noticed the difference! It’s great when a cost-saving switch is also an environment-saving one. Thanks for posting this article.

  7. tango! Says:

    Travelina…extra points to ya!!! congrats on getting yoru entire office to make the change…ask them to use the extra savings to buy more bulbs to give out to employees like a candy jar, just bulbs!! 😉 spread the love ya know!

  8. travelina Says:

    Tango! I love your candy jar idea.

  9. tango! Says:

    Let me know if ya get a bulb candy jar to happen…take a picture, and send it my way to post here!!
    Do you blog for national Geographic? if so…how freakin COOOOoool…I’m jeaolous now..

  10. designverb Says:

    […] Anyhoots, before I get ya’ll stuck in my own dilema, give the trailer to Manufactured Landscapes a view and perhaps question your own actions in your own field, home, and surroundings and get motivated for some simple changes like recycling, changing to longer lasting light bulbs, or even reusing your CD spindles. […]

  11. Light-ningman Says:

    I am one of those independent lighting reps that Wal-mart loves to put out of business by offering seemingly “same” or “as good as” products at cheeper prices. They become the big bully forcing their consumers to purchase whatever is on their store shelves without regard to where the bulbs will be used. Hence, there will be a few million disgruntled buyers who don’t blame Wal-mart for their mistakes buying the incorrect bulb for the job they need to be fixed.  Wal-mart would serve their consumers by adding a person at the bulb display that could suggest the proper bulb to match the application.  It’s only the cheap CFLs that do not light up immediately; like the GE’s that Wal-mart is promoting; however, you don’t know that until you actually get inside the packaging of the GE product.

  12. Kat13 Says:

    Glad to see Wal-mart getting onto the light bulb wagon. You ought to petition the government to do what the government here in Australia is doing – phasing out incandescent light globes over the next 3 years. That should make a huge difference to our greenhouse emissions!

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